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Water Bottle vs. Bladder: Which Is Better?

If you had to choose only a bottle or reservoir, which would it be?

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Bringing enough water is key for a safe and enjoyable hike. But how to carry it? Usually, hikers split into two camps: those who prefer to carry traditional water bottles, and those who sip their hydration through a hose. We asked two of our editors to fight for their favorite. 

Bottles Are Best 

By Shannon Davis

A water bottle has only one alleged downside, so I’ll start there. As we all know, there is no delivery hose with a pacifier at the end through which to hork water while multitasking on your phone. But rather than being a downside, I would argue that the lack of a hose is just one of the bottle’s unbeatable attributes.  

The naked hose of a sloppy-to-fill and difficult-to-repack reservoir freezes solid as soon as the mercury drops. And heat is no better: Three scorching sips precede lukewarm liters of water on every summer hike. How refreshing! 

An indestructible, easily filled, and svelte bottle, on the other hand, can be packed away and protected from the elements. They also come in insulated models to keep your liquids ice cold or piping hot, exactly how you want them. 

Even more things you can do with a bottle but not a bladder (gross! bladder!): Fill it with hot water to warm the foot of your sleeping bag on a winter camping trip; harvest snow in it to melt and enjoy water throughout a day in the alpine; clean it without specialized equipment (bottles are not prone to mold and glop like reservoirs are); cover it with all the stickers that don’t fit on your roof box; and use it without fuss or embarrassment anywhere—from your car to the office to the gym to the plane. You can fill it with drink mixes (or even your booze of choice) without remnant flavors leaching into your water for months to come. The bottle? It’s simply better. 

Reservoirs Rule 

By Eli Bernstein

Whenever I hike with partners who aren’t using a reservoir, I pity them. Stopping to finagle a bottle from your side pocket whenever you’re thirsty? That must be annoying. It’s not? Well, here’s something that is: When you inevitably ask me to grab your bottle for you after you’ve become tired of removing your pack or straining your shoulder joint.

Before you accuse me of being cruel, let me defend my position: I’m merely rational and efficient. Hiking is tough enough already; why would you want to spend more time and energy by adding unnecessary steps to your hydration? Immediate access to water via a hose at your shoulder also makes you more likely to drink it and to keep drinking at regular intervals, which fends off dehydration. You don’t want to end your hike early because you made a poor gear decision and are now parched, do you?

Reservoirs are more packable, lighter, and hold more water than bottles do. You don’t have to break stride to drink from them, which maintains your hiking momentum and keeps your focus on the nature surrounding you. Stopping just to drink from a bottle ruins the tableau. But, sure, do that if you wish. I’ll be cruising down the trail ahead of you, sipping while I walk and ignoring your pleas to “just grab this bottle for me real quick.”